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Nonprofit, US Forest Service work to restore saguaros burned in Bush Fire

The Bush Fire, which started in the summer of 2020, began near SR 87 between Payson and...
The Bush Fire, which started in the summer of 2020, began near SR 87 between Payson and Phoenix, then raged over the top of Four Peaks and down toward Roosevelt Lake.(AZ Family)
Published: Nov. 5, 2021 at 12:32 PM MST
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MARICOPA COUNTY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- There’s a major initiative underway in the Tonto National Forest to save the saguaros that are slowly dying in the wake of the massive 2020 Bush Fire.

Many of the large cacti burned were on average about 100 years old. The only place saguaros grow naturally is in the Sonoran Desert and now there’s an effort underway to restore these giants across the landscape.

During the summer of 2020, the Bush Fire scorched nearly 200,000 acres of the Tonto National Forest, making it the fifth-largest wildfire in Arizona history. It sparked after a person driving from Payson to Phoenix pulled their car over into dry grass beside SR 87. The heat from their brakes ignited the blaze. The fire then raged over the top of Four Peaks and down toward Roosevelt Lake. It devastated approximately 80,000 saguaros along with multiple ecosystems.

Thanks to a collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service and nonprofit groups, volunteers and rangers can cut the arms of the saguaros that are left standing. They’ll take them to a nursery for a year where they’ll grow a root system. Afterward, they’ll be taken back to their original location to be planted. They’ll have better odds of surviving than cacti that grow from seeds.

Since they grow so slowly, they’ll have about a 10 to 20-year head start. Arizona’s Family is told this process has a 60 to 70 percent success rate.

“Depending on the size of it, we may need to stake it in and have a little support for it, but just making sure that the roots are covered and that there’s no air gaps around the roots,” said Nicole Corey with Natural Restorations.

Volunteers and rangers were also able to rescue 300 saguaros, barrels, and hedgehog cactus from an area just outside Wickenburg called Vulture Mine Road. That’s where they would have been plowed down to make room for a new recreation site.

The Forest Service and volunteers will meet this weekend to clean the Four Peaks area and plant those cacti. To learn more about how you can help, click here.

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